Foreign Intrigue: Adiba Khan in Nairobi, Kenya

Adiba Khan

Adiba Khan taking notes when following a family planning NGO, Marie Stopes, during their outreach visit to a rural area in Machakos, Kenya. Photo by Paul E. Nevin

Journalism and Biochemistry major Adiba Khan has been in Nairobi, Kenya for almost two months participating in an independent reporting project on global health. She is partnering with UW Department of Global Health graduate student Paul Nevin, through the Pulitzer Center Campus Consortium program. Read about her experiences so far and what is ahead before she returns to Seattle:

What has surprised you the most about Kenya?

I am most surprised by the fact that all the Kenyans I have met have a positive image of America. This shouldn’t be a surprise because of the amount of aid the US sends Kenya, but I suppose I am surprised that citizens of any country besides Israel still look at the US favorably.

What has been the biggest challenge so far reporting in a foreign country?

I really wish I was able to communicate in Kiswahili. Professionals throughout the country and most people in Nairobi speak English, and I had the help of interpreters in rural areas. The interpreters are great, but a three-way triangle is never the ideal mode of communication. I know I am missing out on some interesting perspectives because I am not able to speak conversationally and at length with a woman in the waiting area of a hospital or a cashier at the grocery store. I don’t think anyone can truly understand a nation if they cannot speak the local language.

What successes have you had so far (even if it is as small as a successful trip to the grocery store)?

I thought it would be more difficult than it was to get access to hospitals and peer into patients’ rooms. Health is such a private matter, and it feels strangely successful to be able to listen to care providers and see patients.

Also, I am not using my smart phone’s data service while I am in Kenya. I have successfully gotten lost several times while walking alone and found my way back to familiar surroundings without Google Maps (I did get a cab one time, because the sun was about to set and I didn’t want to walk around in the dark).

Can you share an anecdote from your trip – cool adventure, funny incident, lesson learned?

I traveled to Busia, a town near the Ugandan border. Driving back through the beautiful rural areas, I saw a young boy smeared in mud and riding a bike on the side of the street. Surrounding him were several older men and children clanging bells, waving a flag, and yelling excitedly. The driver told me that the young boy was going through an initiation ceremony in which he would be circumcised and become a man. It looked like a celebration, but I wondered what the boy himself was thinking.

Adiba Khan

Adiba Khan watches a PRONTO obstetrics simulation training in Naivasha, Kenya with a group of Kenyan midwives. Photo by Ken Karumba.

We drove onwards and picked up the driver’s son, who is about my age. He was headed back to Nairobi to find work, but told me he preferred living in a rural area and doing agricultural work. When we discussed our respective cultural practices, he mentioned the initiation ceremony. He talked candidly about the experience, laughing and recounting the pain. He said he would not have his sons do the same; instead they would be circumcised in the hospital. I asked him why – was it not an important event for them to be recognized as men? He smiled and said no, that going through such pain doesn’t make someone a man anymore. I asked him what makes a man, and he replied: “having an education.”

What are you looking forward to most as you continue your stay in Kenya?

This week, Paul Nevin and I will be traveling with a family planning NGO, Marie Stopes, as they offer services to people in a remote area of central Kenya. The administration has told us that it is a life-changing experience, and I am very excited for the trip. The week after is my last week in Kenya and will probably be crunch time – time to write up stories and time to eat everything I can’t find in the US.

Do you have any updates about your Global Health reporting project?

Paul Nevin and I are focusing on women’s health – maternal and reproductive health in Kenya. Paul will be unpacking free maternity services and maternal health trainings. I will be writing about teen pregnancy and family planning. We have met with many people and traveled to several places in Kenya over the past six weeks, and will have material out within the next couple of weeks.

Read more about her experiences on her personal blog: